2004-06-30

Nader's anti-Semitism

Don't have time for a full post right now, but Ralph Nader was recently quoted with some anti-Semitic remarks. More on this later. For now:

As a former Nader supporter, I wish I could say I'm surprised. I never knew Nader to be anti-Semitic, and I did not hear anything about his anti-Semitism during the 1996 and 2000 campaigns. But I probably could have found the information if I had dug for it, which I did not do. I knew there were anti-Semitic elements in the leftist world, but I didn't want to believe that they affected Nader or the Green Party. So I blame myself for not having asked enough questions.

Regarding the Greens (with whom Nader is no longer affiliated), there are both anti-Semitic and anti-anti-Semitic elements in the GP. I have been very favorably impressed with some European Greens' unequivocal denunciation of anti-Semitism in the past. Unfortunately, there is another side to the picture as well.

I'll post more on this as soon as I can.

Let's Blogroll!

Life after death. Right Thinking Girl has a 9/11 story you won't forget. Just read it. Thanks to Baldilocks.

Prejudice and the prairie. A Liberal Canadian MP's remark gets Kate hot under the collar, and it ought to bother you, too. Labeling conservatives as "droolers and knuckledraggers" and calling people from rural areas "rednecks" is disgusting, and it's typical of the hypocrisy of elite so-called "liberals" who fancy themselves defending freedom of thought. I grew up in Connecticut, and I love my native New England dearly but I don't love the bigoted attitudes towards Southerners that were all too often tolerated in our "enlightened" society.

"You are too dark. We want to make a light baby." CaribPundit describes rape as ethnic cleansing in Sudan in harrowing detail.

In the driver's seat. Citing the proverb that "nobody washes a rented car", BigPharoah expresses confidence in Iraq's future, saying that "Early indicators show that the vast majority of Iraqis are willing to give this new government a chance and they will base their judgment on how well Allawi does in providing security, jobs, clean water, and electricity." He cautions that Allawi's government must learn from the mistakes of the CPA, and make security and services a top priority or face the wrath of the Iraqi people. Drawing on his experience in the PR world, he also notes that the perception of sovereignty - or lack of sovereignty - is everything: multinational forces "shouldn't fire a single bullet" without the approval of the Iraqi government; and Iraqi visibility in security forces must increase.

Morning Report: June 30, 2004

Saddam, aides to go to Iraqi custody; arraignment Thursday. Saddam Hussein and eleven aides were transferred to the legal custody of the new Iraqi government on Wednesday, although the "dirty dozen" will remain in US legal custody. The deposed dictator will face formal charges in an Iraqi tribunal on Thursday, although the formal indictment may take months. US forces will retain custody of the prisoners until Iraqi security is ready to hold them. (CNN)

Alleged sex offender challenged to debate accuser. Bill Clinton, the former US President who was charged with sexual harassment, has been challenged to a debate by his alleged victim, Paula Jones. "I'm not embarrassed or ashamed to be out and meet him eye-to-eye and tell him he knows he did what he did to me. But Bill Clinton would never agree to something like that," Jones said. Jones' suit, filed in 1994, charged that Clinton, while he was still governor of Arkansas, groped her and exposed himself to her in a hotel room. The lawsuit was settled in November 1998, with a payment of $850,000 but no admission of wrongdoing by Clingon. (CNN)

2004-06-28

Bush, Kerry, and Nader

I supported Ralph Nader in 1996 and again in 2000. This year, while I don't support him as a candidate, I will defend his right to run for office - and not just because I'm voting for Bush.

I was with the Green Party for seven years, from 1996 (Nader's first run) thru 2003. I registered Democratic around last spring, but my heart wasn't in it. I lasted about a year with the Dems.

If people like Joe Lieberman and the folks at The New Republic represented the majority of Democrats, I'd stay with them. But they don't.

The problem I'm seeing with the Dems now is, ironically, very similar to how the party looked to me from the Green side of the house: they don't seem to stand for anything except "not being Republicans". Every four years they try to convince you that the world is going to come to an end if a Republican gets into the White House. That was their whole case against Nader - because they couldn't challenge him on the issues or on integrity.

Well, whatever you think about the 2000 election, GWB has certainly not caused the end of the world. The only people whose world has come crashing down have been (a) the Taliban; (b) the Iraqi Ba'ath Party; and (c) their sympathizers and apologists in the West.

Nader isn't running on the Green ticket this year, but he will be running as "the anti-war candidate". Kerry will then be really screwed, because he's trying to take a middle position on an issue where there's no middle ground. The Democrats will scream (again) about Nader stealing "their" votes, but by this point it should be obvious that the Democrats never "owned" those votes in the first place. Ironically, this is an example of the very "entitlement mentality" that conservatives so often accuse liberals of.

I think American politics may end up being reborn as a result of all this. If they are smart, the Democrats could re-invent themselves as a centrist party within the next couple of election cycles. The Greens are strong - I still have a lot of respect for them - and could take in some of the far lefties. This three-party model could produce a much more interesting exchange of ideas than the current "duopoly".

But the Democratic Party will have to ask itself some hard questions first.

Morning Report: June 28, 2004

IRAQI SOVEREIGNTY DECLARED TODAY. Morning Report is taking the day off to celebrate.

2004-06-27

Iraq handover is TODAY!!!

Iraqi sovereignty suddenly brought forward to today, according to latest reports.

Nader: Less is Moore

Ralph Nader tells Michael Moore to lose weight. Details, link, commentary to follow shortly.

Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun, USMC

Terrorists in Iraq have kidnapped a US Marine, Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun, and are threatening to behead him if their demands are not met. While little is clear at this stage, one or two points are immediately obvious:

(1) These pigs are making a huge tactical mistake.

(2) They are equal-opportunity, anti-human, anti-civilization killers.

(3) Let's roll.

Kabbalah Series - complete

The complete text of my series on Madonna, the Bergs, and the Kabbalah may be found here:

Kabbalah Series

The Kabbalah

The Kabbalah: Complete Series


THE KABBALAH - Part 7

No one is watching you, and yet you feel you're being watched. Maybe you've had this feeling from time to time; maybe you have it now. You don't believe in God - you gave up this guy named "God", this old man in the clouds with a white beard, long ago. So you subtract things - prophets and saints, churches, synagogues and mosques, you subtract the body from the soul and the soul from the body, and you subtract everything but the random interaction of subatomic particles. And this is the only truth you're left with, but because it has no meaning, none at all, you subtract even that.

And yet you are still left with something.

Where do you go from here?

Do you turn back to the guy named God? That was where the process started, after all; so perhaps you can begin there. But He always disappointed you - because you expected Him to be human, like a man, and idealized, powerful, all-good and all-compassionate man, but somehow human nonetheless. And God failed you; he failed your expectation. He failed to be human.

But God is not a man. You always knew this, intellectually, but it only hits you now. The guy named God is an illusion, but there's something else that is more than real. It is not human, and you hesitate to call it "He". You hesitate to give it any name at all, but you have to come up with something, so you write the word with letters missing - G-d - because the whole enterprise is futile anyway. Or you could use another word, something neutral, Spirit, or Light, or Mystery, or The Way.

Thousands of years ago, an Arab named Ayoub discovered the mysterious Spirit in the tempest of personal tragedy. His story comes down to us in one of the longest books of the Bible, written in an uncommonly opaque Hebrew and bearing the Hebrew form of his name - Iyov, or Job. Job's friends try to explain away his suffering, offering either blame or false hope. Job will accept neither. What galls him so is not the fact of his suffering, but the unfairness of it. Rejecting the sugarcoated theodicies of others, he finds no peace until he is confronted by the voice from the whirlwind, and declares: "I will ask, and you will inform me."

So evocative is the language of the Divinity's final address to Job, that the kabbalistic commentator Ra'avad discerns "fifty gates of wisdom" in chapters 38 and 39 of the book. But really, if you just read the passage aloud - even in a good English translation - you will get a sense of the mystery that Job must have experienced. And I think that is the main point.

Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Shapira, who lived in Warsaw at the time of the Nazi invasion, saw more death and cruelty than anyone should ever have to see. And yet - somehow - he kept teaching Torah, and he left a record of his teachings from the years 1940 to 1942. Unearthed by a construction worker after the war, this last work of Kalonymus, titled "The Holy Fire", is the spiritual diary of a man watching his world being destroyed.

In an entry dated Parashat Mishpatim, 5702 (February 1942), Kalonymus writes: "We learn from the commentaries that the voice of G-d at the giving of the Torah [on Mount Sinai] traveled from one end of the Earth to the other, and that Israel heard the voice of G-d in all the winds of the world. This comes to teach us that we must not think of the physical world as being far from the Torah, nor in opposition to it: it is not so. The voice of the Torah is heard from the whole world, because the world too was created by the word of G-d and the word of G-d is the essence of the world; it is only that human beings use the world in an evil way, and destroy the world that was 'created with ten commands' (Avot 5:1). And whoever uses the world for good, the world itself helps them in their study and deeds. ... For the world was created by the word of G-d, and the Torah is the word of G-d, and in fact the Creator is one with the Divine Word; and the whole Torah is contained in the Ten Commandments, and all the Ten Commandments were spoken as one word. And the Word of G-d in the creation of the world, and the Word of G-d in the Torah, are one."

Near the end of "The Holy Fire", shortly after the passage quoted above, Kalonymus (himself a kabbalist) returns to the Jewish mystical doctrine one more time. He is discussing the configuration of the ten Sephiroth, the potentialities or dimensions which kabbalists (and now physicists) tell us underlie the fabric of creation. In a conundrum going back at least to the sixteenth century, scholars have offered various ideas as to how the Sephiroth might best be schematically represented. Interestingly enough, Kalonymus eschews the familiar "Tree of Life" diagram (which can be found in any popular book on the Kabbalah) and returns to the older model of concentric rings. He presents two alternative views: "In the configuration of 'circles', each higher level encircles its [lower] neighbor, so that the Divinity surrounds all of them, and the World of Action [i.e., the lowest, material level] is at the center. In the 'direct' configuration [so called even though it is also circular], every lesser level enwraps its [higher] neighbor, so that the ray of the Infinite is found at the center, and the World of Action is outside." The first configuration, in which the greater surrounds the lesser, represents the body, for we stand surrounded by ever greater mysteries. The second, in which the greater is concealed within the lesser, is the way of the soul, for "there the soul, not the body, is of the essence."

Let's picture this. Warsaw is in ruins and Nazis are prowling the streets. Kalonymus' whole family have been murdered, and his people are being shipped off to the gas chambers day by day. He himself will make that trip in a few weeks. And here he is, writing about the unity of the world, and the soul, and G-d.

The paradox of the Jewish tradition is the tension between the individual and the universal. The festival of Purim plays on this tension by turning Jewish identity on its head ("queering" it, as we'd say nowadays) and deliberately blurring boundaries of identity. (Jews can dress like goyim, and even drink like goyim!) Because of a Jewish woman who went undercover in the Persian regime, the Jews of Persia were spared a fate like that which befell Europe's Jews in a later age. And this is the messianic symbolism of Purim: it calls on us to imagine a day when, without losing our Jewish identity, we will no longer be separate and segregated from "the nations"; rather, Israel and the nations will have evolved toward a higher commonality.

It would be easy to laugh at Madonna's interest in Kabbalah and to dismiss her as another shallow, fad-following entertainer; but I won't do that. I do hope that she can look beyond the Bergs' Kabbalah Centre for inspiration. I think she is looking for the same thing we are all looking for: to find meaning and our place in the world.

(End.)

Is TNR becoming infested by moonbats?

Have lunar chiroptera begun nesting in the belfry of that last bastion of sane liberalism, The New Republic?

I've got to wonder. This week's print edition is devoted to the question: "Were We Wrong?" I'll post more on this just as soon as my snarkiness level rises to its full potential.

2004-06-23

Morning Report: June 23, 2004

Iran to free British sailors. The Iran regime will free eight Royal Navy sailors detained earlier this week, reporting that it was convinced the crews crossed into Iranian territorial waters by mistake. Michael Ledeen has this to say about the incident.

2004-06-22

INDC Interviews Sully

Apropos of my foregoing post on "Bush, Iraq, and Gay Marriage", you must not miss this splendid Interview with Andrew Sullivan on INDC Journal.

Let's Blogroll!

Jane at Armies Of Liberation pokes holes in the New York Times' fluff piece about nuclear weapons proliferation.

Gun control is a croc in the Solomon Islands, it would seem, according to a new post by the Head Heeb.

Baldilocks has no patience for Reggie Rivers, citing the conditions endured by Russia's serfs.

The Belmont Club addresses the future of liberalism and conservatism in America. Despite the obvious failures of liberalism, Wretchard cautions that "sooner or later Liberals and Conservatives must form a coalition of national unity." I believe this coalition is already in the making, and I think one of the positive effects of the current struggle will be to revive true political dialogue in America.

Michele earns the Rant Of The Day award for this post at A Small Victory.

Finally, I can add nothing to this post from Feyrouz.

Morning Report: June 22, 2004

Attacks on Russian posts kill dozens. Separate attacks on Russian government buildings in three towns in Ingushetia, which borders on Chechnya, left at least 46 people dead. An anti-terrorism official said the attacks were carried out by 50 to 100 fighters which included Chechen, Ingush and "possibly" foreign fighters. (CNN)

Britain demands release of eight sailors. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw met with his Iranian counterpart Kamal Kharrazi on Tuesday to discuss the case of the eight British sailors detained by Iran. The sailors were held along with three Royal Navy vessels seized by Iranian forces in the Shatt-al-Arab passage on Monday. The UK also summoned the Iranian ambassador to London to demand the sailors' release: "It was a one-way conversation", a British official explained. Debka notes that UK/IRI relations have been under strain since Britain took a tough line against the Iran regime's nuclear program. Military sources in Iran have stated that the sailors will be prosecuted. Iranian freedom activists have accused Britain of aiding the IRI regime; the latest incident may have important consequences for the future of London-Tehran relations. (various)

Powell hints at Iran sanctions. Secretary of State Colin Powell hinted at sanctions against Iran after meeting with IAEA director general Mohamed el-Baradei on Monday, saying of the IRI regime, "The international community is expecting them to answer its questions [about a suspected nuclear weapons program] and respond fully". (Fox)

2004-06-21

Dreams Into Lightning Celebrates Two Months

Please celebrate responsibly.

Morning Report

was UA yesterday and today (Sunday and Monday) due to the Gay Pride march, which I was marching in yesterday and resting up from today. MR expects to be back on duty tomorrow.

The Kabbalah

THE KABBALAH - Part 6

Will it grow cold, the secret that I hide?
Will I grow old?
- Madonna


You’ve had those moments when you heard a song, and you had to drop everything, because nothing else was happening except the song? You just stand there with your eyes closed, literally entranced, bewitched by the music and the words and the voice? And for a moment it seems that everything in your life is contained in the song, like a secret hidden in some kind of code, and you wish you could reveal that secret to the world, but you know you can’t, because if you did, the world would crumble before its beauty? You know the feeling, right?

(Oh. Well, maybe it’s just me, then. But you get the idea.)

The song “Live to Tell” was one of those moments for me. Hearing it, I was sure that it was the work of someone who, like me, was searching for the path back to that higher place that we all come from and to which we are all destined to return. “If I live to tell the secret I knew then, will I / ever have the chance again?”

So picture Yossi Klein Halevi sitting with the Bergs and Madonna at the Kabbalah Centre. Madonna is sounding out the words to the Birkat ha-Mazon, while Halevi is mentally taking notes for his article in The New Republic.

What is Madonna Ciccone thinking as she recites the Hebrew words? Has she found what she was looking for?

Halevi closes the article with some intriguing hints about the Kabbalah Centre: an unnamed source familiar with the Centre says, "They don't tell everyone who walks through the door that it's really about immortality ... but subtly, the more you get into it, the more they reveal their real agenda." The author ends with a wry speculation: "What, after all, is more likely to entice a sex symbol confronting middle age than the promise of eternal youth?"

Perhaps many things, I think. It is easy for a male journalist to dismiss an attractive, seductive female entertainer as a "sex symbol" - and undoubtedly, whatever else she may be, Madonna certainly is that. But remember that Madonna's early role model, and the source of her principal public persona, was Marilyn Monroe - another talented, intelligent young woman who gained fame by marketing herself as a "sex symbol". Madonna, now ten years older than Norma Jeane Baker at the time of her death, must have had occasion to think about what she is going to do with the rest of her life.

A news item on Madonna suggests that there is more to this person than a "sex symbol confronting middle age". Madonna has announced that she is taking the Hebrew name Esther; she is also toning down the public sexuality. I think both of these things are important.

Taking another name - a Hebrew name, for example - is a big step. Yes, some people do do it frivolously, but when you ask to be known by another name, whether or not it replaces your old one, you are making a big change in your life. If you change your name, your parents may not take kindly to it. (Mine certainly did not.) Madonna, who was named after her mother (as was I), emphasizes that her assumption of the Hebrew name is "in no way a negation" of her mother, who died when Madonna Jr. was very young.

The news item also indicates that she is no longer interested in the "raunchy pop vixen image". "I don't regret it, but it's just ... I mean everybody takes their clothes off now. And then what? You know? And -- and then what?"

It's interesting, too, that she takes the name Esther, which is associated with the Jewish holiday of Purim. Halevi's article mentions a Purim celebration at the Kabbalah Centre, where, in the author's estimation, "Jews can pretend to be non-Jews, non-Jews can pretend to be Jews, and everyone can pretend to be Kabbalists." Halevi plays the scene for laughs, but the joke is really on him, because the ambiguity of identity is exactly what Purim is about - and I think this may help us to understand Madonna better.

The holiday of Purim and the book of Esther are unique in many ways. Esther is the only book of the Hebrew Scriptures in which the Divinity is never mentioned by name. It is also the only book set wholly in the diaspora, and the only book in which Jews are called by the name we use today: not Hebrews, not Israelites, but survivors of the Tribe of Judah - Jews.

And Purim, the holiday derived from the Esther story, is a law unto itself. While the moderate, sacralized use of wine or liquor is common at Jewish festivals, Purim is the only holiday on which we are actually expected to get drunk - so drunk, tradition tells us, that we should no longer be able to distinguish between "cursed be Haman" and "blessed be Mordechai". And above all, of course, Purim is a masquerade festival - and the only time when Jewish law officially sets aside the prohibitions of Deuteronomy 22:5, permitting celebrants to dress outside of their assigned gender.

Purim isn't one of the major Jewish holidays. Its origins are not in the Torah, but in the historical period, and so the Sabbath-like strictures that apply to Passover, Rosh HaShanah, and especially Yom Kippur do not apply to Purim. In fact, Purim is the one Jewish holiday that can never fall on the Sabbath. And yet tradition holds that in the Messianic Era, when redemption has come to the world and all other holidays are abolished, Purim alone will still be observed.

In taking the name Esther, Madonna has taken on the identity of the Jewish queen of Persia in the Biblical book of the same name. (I always identified with Vashti myself.) In the Jewish reading, Esther represents the "hidden Jew": either the Jew who must hide her or his identity for fear of persecution, or, still more allegorically, the higher Divine self that stays hidden within each person.

Perhaps Madonna is no longer content to entertain the king's court by presenting - however skilfully - the image that the outside world wishes to see. Now she can begin to come to terms with her spiritual identity as a woman, as a human being. Now, as Esther, she can begin to reconcile her public image with her true self.

(End of Part 6.)

2004-06-20

The Moral Struggle

If you listen to the rhetoric of the Left, one thing you will hear consistently is the language of victimhood. For people who, as individuals and as a movement, have lost any sense of moral clarity, the only model that remains is the oppressor/victim paradigm. If guilt conistst in the fact of being the "oppressor", then innocence - by this model - consists wholly and entirely in the role of the victim. That is, to be weak and powerless is to be the victim, and to be the victim is to be innocent.

This is not even an inversion of the "might makes right" mentality, but simply a corrollary to it. By drawing moral legitimacy from the role of victim, the victim becomes complicit in his/her own oppression, validating the oppressor's legitimacy as well. By this system, if I am a victim, I have no motive to try to change the system, or even to change my own place in it.

Judaism is a religion of study and of action. Action without study - that is, study of the moral laws of the Torah - even when well-intentioned, may be misguided and even harmful. Study without action is a waste of time and a perversion of the Torah's intent. Neither study nor action may be regarded as optional. "Great is study, for it leads to action." (Kiddushin 40b)

The spiritual genius of Judaism is that it lifts the moral struggle above and beyond the oppressor/victim paradigm. It demands instead that we learn from our own experience of oppression in order not to repeat it. It insists on the maturity necessary to understand that being the victim of another's injustice does not absolve us of anything; instead, it creates the obligation to correct the injustice rather than perpetuating it.

Oppression gives us the opportunity to learn; power gives us the chance to do.

Morning Report: June 20, 2004

Attempt on Iraqi health minister's life fails. An assassination attempt on Dr. Ala'adin Alwan, the Iraqi minister of health, failed, ending in a gun battle that wounded seven police officers and 10 civilians. (CNN)
Missile strike aimed at Zarqawi kills 16. According to BGen. Mark Kimmitt, "multiple intelligence sources" indicate that a number of members of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's terror network were killed in a US missile strike in Fallujah which targeted a suspected safe house. Accounts from other sources gave varying reports on the number of casualties and the number of missiles fired. (Fox)
Paris arrests seal Paris/Tehran deal, activists charge. Following lucrative business deals last spring between the Iran regime and the French corporations Alcatel and Renault, French police in June arrested 164 members of the exiled Iranian opposition in Paris, in a set of coincidences that French human rights activists find troubling. Attorney Patrick Baudoin says that "The public should ask itself why this type of operation [was made] at the same time as commercial contracts were signed with a tyrannical and terrorist regime". (Telegraph UK, via Free Iran)
Paul Johnson "closer to Allah". "What happened should make us more determined on pursuing our goals to spread freedom and democracy because they are the only way to destroy the environment that favors the growth of such parasitic creatures and stale convictions. This scene should make us more united, as by allowing hate to dominate we would give those criminals what they want so desperately." - Mohammed, ITM

2004-06-18

The L Word: Liberal Priorities

THE L WORD: LIBERALISM IN CRISIS
Liberal Priorities

One friend of mine who campaigns for a Palestinian state and votes Green recently confessed: "I hope Iraq remains in chaos. It's more important that Bush loses the election and Blair is ditched than that Iraq goes right."
- Johann Hari: Liberal Despair

Like A Persian

LIKE A PERSIAN: Madonna the Rebel

This will be a short digression from my series titled "The Kabbalah", which has featured reflections on the spiritual evolution of the pop singer Madonna. The singer has recently announced that she is taking on the Hebrew name Esther, after the Jewish woman who went undercover in the high courts of ancient Persia to save the Jews from genocide.

A recent news item on Madonna's politics and spirituality discusses the singer's involvement in the Kabbalah, and her staunch opposition to President Bush and the Iraq war. Madonna, according to the article, compared President Bush to Saddam Hussein.

“I don’t want to equate George Bush with Saddam Hussein. But I believe that George Bush and Saddam Hussein are both behaving in an irresponsible manner. So, in that respect, they’re alike,” Madonna said.

Well, all of us behave irresponsibly from time to time and so, in that respect, we're all alike. As you can probably guess if you read this blog, I'm not impressed by Madonna's politics. And I'm going to come back to that, but I want to look at some of the other things she says in this interview first.

Regarding her move away from sexual exhibitionism, Madonna was quoted in a CNN article as saying she regrets none of what she did in the past. But her words in the PA News article seem to contradict that:

“The stance of a rebel is ‘I don’t care what you think’. But if it’s just for the sake of upsetting the apple cart, you’re not really helping people. You turn the apple cart over and then what? Then everyone’s looking at an apple cart that’s turned over and they’re like, well, now what do I do? ...

"I thought I was liberating mankind but, like I said, I wasn’t really offering an alternative.

“To a certain extent I was saying ‘Look, you know, why do men only get the job of objectifying women in a sexual way? I want to do it too.’

“There was an element of that, but there was also an element of being an exhibitionist and saying ‘Look at me.’ It wasn’t that altruistic. I can admit that.”

Here Madonna is saying some very, very intelligent things. Unlike so many of today's "radicals" who fancy themselves participants in some grand revolution, she understands that true progress requires more than anarchy and exhibitionism. While her analogy between Bush and Saddam is appalling, she is at least careful to qualify it by saying that she is not "equating" the two - which is more than can be said for many antiwar activists.

And, contrary to Yossi Klein Halevi's assessment in The New Republic:

She is very different from her husband, film director Guy Ritchie, who is “always trying to recapture his youth”. “He did so many fun things as a child that he still loves to do,” she said. “And I don’t. I’m not interested in recapturing my childhood at all.”

Madonna Ciccone has spent all of her adult life in the world of show business, among the left-leaning self-styled "artists" and "intellectuals" of the pop culture elite. She is no more a foreign policy expert than Dick Cheney is a fashion model, and the temptation to say "Shut up and sing!" is strong. But while I don't excuse her ignorance about the liberation of Iraq, I do think she is operating on a different intellectual and spiritual level from most of her comrades in the entertainment world.

It's ironic that the media are toying with the idea that her involvement with the Kabbalah is mere trendiness, while ignoring the leftist political conformity of the pop-music world. (And no, I'm not talking about country music, so don't start with me about the Dixie Chicks.) How typical that the media are unwilling to examine their own biases.

For her part, Madonna will be coming more and more into contact with traditional Judaism, or at least some form of it. I would like to hope that the process - along with her own intelligence - will eventually lead her to a better understanding of the Jewish people and of the enemies of the Jews. Perhaps one day the fate of the state of Israel, and the danger of present and future holocausts threatening Jews and other peoples, will loom larger in her mind than the political fashions to which she still clings.

I'm sure of one thing. Madonna's Biblical namesake, Queen Esther, used all the survival skills at her disposal to secure for herself a place of power, from which she could then intercede to protect the innocent. If Madonna can learn this lesson from Esther, she will have much to be proud of.

Kabbalah Series

THE KABBALAH – Part 1

You remember how it was when you were a small child? How everything was new and full of wonder? Even if you had a hard childhood, your mind would open from time to time, everything around you would fall away, and you felt yourself joined with something higher. You know what I’m talking about. Don’t tell me you don’t remember.

Even as a young adult, when you were first exploring new books and music, love and sex, you had the nagging feeling that there was something behind it all, some kind of secret – not quite like the secret codes you played with as a child, but still a way of changing and hiding a deeper message. And maybe you tried to find clues to this message in your Scriptures, or in science, or in art and literature, and you felt you almost had it, but it still eluded you.

And there were bills to pay, kids to raise, endless meetings and interviews and hasty late-night dinners in front of the television before you dropped off to sleep exhausted. You found the answers that worked for you, and they worked well enough, and you stopped asking the questions, not because you didn’t care anymore, but just because you had other things to do.

So here you are. Maybe now you’re at what they call middle age (whatever that means) and you start counting your birthdays in terms of how many down, how many to go. You wonder what comes next. In those private moments you’ve never spoken of to anyone, you wonder why you bother at all. You’re tired – tired of everything, all the time. You catch yourself thinking that if something happened to you, and you didn’t have to do this anymore, perhaps it wouldn’t be an altogether bad thing. An early retirement, you could say ... and then the alarm clock rings, and it’s time to do it all again.

What brought us here, and why? We’ve looked for answers to these questions in books, you and I, and we know that none of the answers we’ve found have been satisfactory. What we need is not for someone to hand us a diagram with our place clearly marked in the Master Plan (although let’s admit it, that would be nice, woudn’t it?) – what we really need is to learn a new way of thinking. Or maybe it’s an old way of thinking. Or maybe it’s a way of not-thinking.

Or maybe ...

(End of Part 1)


THE KABBALAH – Part 2

When I was in my mid-teens, my mother gave me my first book about Kabbalah. It was “The Book of Letters” by Lawrence Kushner. You have to see this book: it’s bound in natural colored cloth, printed on cream-colored paper; it’s not typeset, but written in the author’s hand in plain and elegant English and Hebrew calligraphy. There is a copy of the book on my lap, next to my computer keyboard, as I write this. I cannot imagine being without this book.

“Alef is the first letter. It has no sound ...” So begins the book, quietly, like the first letter. “Open your mouth and begin to make a sound. STOP! That is Alef.” At once, intuitively, you know where Kushner is taking you. You’re going to go to the beginning, the place before sound, the place before thought. You’re going to learn new words – and not just the words themselves, or even just their meanings, you are going to learn a new way of thinking.

Over the next fifty-five pages (it is a short book) we learn more than 200 Hebrew words: words like echad (one), bayit (house), hinneni (here I am), sefer (book), and tzedek (righteousness). We also learn that “you cannot pronounce the letter Tet until you go out early in the spring morning and see the dew (tal). Only when you secretly confess to yourself that you really do not understand how the tiny droplets of water have come to be, are you permitted to be cleansed in them.”

Growing up in Rabbi Kushner’s New England, I knew well the chill of the dew on bare feet in the morning, at that time in spring when school is not quite over, but you can at least forget about it long enough to watch the shimmer of the early sun on those droplets. And maybe you weren’t happy in school, and maybe your home life wasn’t so good either, but could put it out of your mind when you saw the dew glistening on the blades of grass.

What was I feeling at those moments? I don’t know. I know that at other times, I was feeling “Shevirat ha-Kelim. The discord and confusion which is the beginning of growing. And then trying to get it all back together again.” So life was not meant to be easy: this much was clear. But what could be broken and shattered could also be mended: “Tikkun. Mending. The repair of the universe.” I didn’t understand what it all meant, but I wanted to find out.

Now there’s another book in front of me: big, square, and slick, printed in eye-popping day-glow colors and metallic silver. The title is “The 72 Names of God – Technology for the Soul (TM)” and the dust jacket informs me that the book is a “National Bestseller”. Its author, Yehuda Berg, is “an ordained Rabbi and is internationally-renowned as a leading authority of Kabbalah.”

The Forword informs us that “the 72 Names are a technology for asserting the power of human consciousness over physicality.” The book is quite emphatic about the “technology” aspect, in fact, using the word ten times in the two-page foreword (and four times in the first paragraph alone).

So it is a technology. Well. If it is a technology, then it must be practical, efficient, and reliable. I certainly hope it works better than my AOL dial-up or Windows Millennium Edition.

But if it is a technology, then it must also be inscrutable. Anything technological has already been theorized, understood, studied, researched and developed, and is now in full production, ready for consumer use. Science – or what used to be called “natural philosophy” – belongs to the conjoined realms of understanding and experience. Technology, by definition, does not ask to be understood or even thought about; only used. Did your computer come with a brochure explaining the fine points of silicon doping and photolithography? Neither did mine.

What are the 72 Names? They are combinations of three Hebrew letters each, derived from Exodus 14:19-21 by a simple algorithm (one letter from each verse, in order, reading the middle verse backward). The book promises that by meditating faithfully on the various letter combinations, certain specific effects can be achieved. Of course, there is a stipulation: the Names will not do anything for you unless you commit to “proactive behavior” and renounce “ego games”.

Well and good: the 72 Names of God help them who help themselves. But these little tricks – being proactive and dealing with that nuisance called the ego – does the book offer us any practical advice regarding these things? Is it not astonishing that whole shelves of self-help books, even entire religions, have been devoted to these tasks, yet Berg offers us not so much as a handful of pointers for keeping the mind and body still during meditation, or winning friends and influencing people?

And conversely: once we’ve got will and ego under control, what will the 72 Names do for us that mere meditation, prayer, study, and action alone will not? On this point, too, the book is resolutely silent.

But let me stop nitpicking over the book; now I want to visit Yossi Kein Halevi’s article on Yehuda Berg and his Kabbalah Centre.

(End of Part 2)

THE KABBALAH – Part 3

Yossi Klein Halevi visited the Kabbalah Centre in Los Angeles earlier this year (he was there for Purim), and in the May 10 print issue of The New Republic, he tells us about it.

“In the prayer room they call ‘the war zone’, where the cosmic battle against Satan is fought, several dozen young men are swaying to the rhythms of the morning Jewish service,” the article begins. It is like an Orthodox synagogue, Halevi notes, except for “some oddities”: some men wear kippot, tallitot, and tefillin (the normal acoutrements of a weekday morning service) while others do not. “The Centre has transformed Kabbalah – considered by Jews to be the inner sanctum of Jewish thought – into generic, nondenominational mysticism.” The various triliteral terms of the 72-letter Divine Name may now be found imprinted on T-shirts and trucker’s caps. According to Halevi, “the Centre claims that merely scanning the text of the Zohar, the seminal thirteenth-century commentary on the Bible, offers divine protection. You don’t have to understand what you’re reading; in fact, you don’t even have to know how to read the Hebrew letters to absorb their magical properties.”

So it has come to this. Lawrence Kushner, writing in 1975, could tell us of the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet: “Bait is a house, Bayit. It is of the ground. ... The dot [in the middle of the letter] which is called a dagesh represents one who lives within. When Jacob our father slept in the wilderness, he was certain that he was alone. But when he awoke, he had learned about Bait: “Surely G-d has been in this place, and I didn’t even know it!” (This verse would provide the title for a later book by Kushner.) The text goes on to observe: “All the other letters might fall over, but not Bait [which is flat on the bottom]. See how the base of a Bait is so close to the earth. The ground. Bend your knees to the ground and be blessed. A blessing: beracha.”

We have learned the shape of the letter, and two words. We have also learned something about seeking the Mysterious One, and about awareness, and about humility.

But we have learned nothing at all about the letter’s magical powers, so what good is it?

Back to Halevi. “In the Centre’s world, though, the spiritual quest isn’t about God, but about the seeker. The Centre does teach the need to give to others – and Madonna, for one, credits it with making her a better person. Accompanying the Centre’s candles for better sex is a divine name and a prayer ‘to purify my desires so that I share love and energy with my partner, putting his or her needs ahead of my own.’ But, as the Centre’s own literature makes clear, the motive for such altruism is selfishness.” As the article quotes one Kabbalah Centre disciple, “It has nothing to do with being a good person. It’s about not hurting myself.”

“The Centre doesn’t merely trivialize Kabbalah; it inverts its intention. ... Where Kabbalah’s goal is to transcend this world, the Centre’s goal is to master it,” says Halevi. “ ‘The Centre doesn’t speak about God, but about “the light”, which is an impersonal force,’ says a professor of religious studies researching the group. ‘If you link into the right name, you get the right result. The Centre turns God into our remote-control panel.’”

More disturbing stories emerge: the man who filled his swimming pool with Kabbalah Mountain water (blessed by leaders of the Centre) to cure his fatal illness, or the one who left his wife anf family to pursue his involvement with the Centre. What kind of place is this?

Then Halevi brings us to a scene at the Centre on Saturday night (the end of the Jewish Sabbath): after the meal, Centre members – Madonna among them – recite the traditional Grace After Meals (known as “bentching” – a rare Romance word in the Yiddish language, being derived from the French “benediction”). They’re reading the Hebrew prayers from transliterated texts – remember, no one has taught them to actually read the letters. To the writer, Madonna appears “hunched down, in an uncharacteristic humility.”

You remember 1986? A long time ago, I know. Maybe you’re too young to remember. America was slowly winding down its long struggle with something called the “Soviet Union”. The internet didn’t exist, and home computers were still a novelty. And so was MTV, but there were some pop artists who were learning to master the medium.

That was the year a wildly popular and inventive singer released a song called “Live to Tell”. Madonna was not quite 28 years old.

(End of Part 3)

THE KABBALAH – Part 4

I know where beauty lives
I've seen it once, I know the warmth she gives
The light that you could never see
It shines inside, you can't take that from me
- Madonna


There’s someone inside, behind the mind, behind the feelings. This is the soul, the deep self. It strives and struggles to make its way through the world, knowing that this is its only way back home.

It knows what you’ve always suspected, that there is a deep underlying order, far below what the eyes and ears can find and far beyond what the mind can grasp. You’re dimly aware of this deep self, but if you think of it at all, you treat it as a problem to be solved, or a figment of your overworked imagination. You tell yourself you really need to get out more.

But still, you wonder ...

You’re not the only one:

“Rabbi Isaac said, ‘The light created by God in the act of Creation flared from one end of the universe to the other and was hidden away, reserved for the righteous in the world that is coming, as it is written: Light is sown for the righteous. Then the worlds will be fragrant, and all will be one. But until the world that is coming arrives, it is stored and hidden away.’

“Rabbi Judah responded, ‘If the light were completely hidden, the world could not exist for even a moment! Rather, it is hidden and sown like a seed that gives birth to seeds and fruit. Thereby the world is sustained.’” – The Zohar (translated by Daniel C. Matt in The Essential Kabbalah).

Depending on who you listen to, the Zohar was written in the First Century by Rabbi Simon bar Yohai, or around 1280 by Rabbi Moses de Leon. Don’t worry about it. The Kabbalah is the unfolding story of the soul’s search for itself, and the Zohar is one of its chapters.

The Book of Creation (Sefer Yetzirah), a much shorter book than the Zohar and older by almost all accounts, also speaks of the soul’s search. It describes an orderly universe, created by means of mystical “letters” and by other quantities called “Sefirot”, a universe in which there is a correspondence between form, number, and sound, and between space, time, and the soul. An appendix to the Book of Creation, called the Thirty-Two Pathse of Wisdom, describes these entities in detail. (You can find a translation of the Thirty-Two Paths, with commentary, at The Ocean Names of Night.)

This is the literature of the soul’s journey. It is often chaotic, sometimes contradictory, always symbolic and usually opaque. Is the Kabbalah Jewish? It can’t seem to make up its mind. It wants to be quintessentially Jewish, but it also wants to be universal – which is perhaps the most Jewish thing about it.

But isn’t it that way with all of us? Don’t we all have to struggle with that tension, the conflict between our uniqueness as individuals and our universality as human beings? And isn’t that what makes us human?

(End of Part 4.)

THE KABBALAH – Part 5

You know how you tell a really good Orthodox shul? I mean, every synagogue has its good points – charismatic rabbi, nice architecture, good food on Shabbos afternoon. But in a really good shul, you don’t have to be anybody except who you are. They don’t care if you’re rich or famous, whether you’re converted or if you “look Jewish” or not; they don’t worry about how you’re dressed or what kind of university degree you have. Their priority is the Torah – everything else is trivial in comparison.

It was at one of those shuls that I met actress/comedienne Sandra Bernhard a few years ago. This was in San Francisco, where I was living at the time. The congregation didn’t have its own building (although it used to, many years ago); we met in an office building downtown. It was a small, eclectic, and devoted group. Services were led by a man named Henry, a tall, unkempt, and brilliant man who had arrived as a refugee from Germany in 1945. He was highly regarded as a scholar, both as a talmudist and as a kabbalist; he also made a terrific tuna salad. Services were held on Friday night (Sabbath eve) and Saturday; if you stuck around for Saturday evening services at the end of the Sabbath, you’d find the small group singing “baruch elokeinu she’branu likhvodo”, a verse from the prayerbook, in solemn tones.

I didn’t know who she was at first, because she went by her Hebrew name Sarah. (This wasn’t an affectation; it’s common for Jews to switch from their common name to their Hebrew name in the synagogue.) She must have been in town on a tour. She was there for Sabbath morning services and the meal afterwards; I don’t remember much of the conversation but she seemed relieved to be able to just relax. I don’t remember whether she was there for one of Henry’s talks on kabbalah; if she was, she might have been treated to a detailed discussion of the connection between the Messiah and the lowest sephirah, Malkhut, perhaps making mention of the gematria (Hebrew numerology) of the word “malkhut”. (It’s 496, in case you were wondering.) Henry often emphasized the importance of the Shekhinah, or feminine Divine presence, in connection with the Messianic Age.

Sandra Bernhard is still learning kabbalah, dammit! and is now one of the high-profile disciples of the Kabbalah Centre (along with Barbra Streisand, Elizabeth Taylor, Britney Spears, and various other celebrities mentioned by Yossi Klein Halevi.) According to the blurb on the back of the book, Sandra says that we must “tap into the 72 Names of God IMMEDIATELY!”

But “immediately” isn’t the word most meditation teachers use for serious practice. Something seems to be missing here. The Berg family are certainly not the only ones, or the first ones, to make mysticism available to the general population. Whey, then, are they at the center (or centre) of this new fad? Halevi thinks he knows the answer, and he may be right; I’ll come back to his article “Like A Prayer” in The New Republic, and add some thoughts of my own.

I don’t know what Sandra Bernhard is learning from the Bergs’ Kabbalah Centre now that she has become a devotee. I hope it’s as good as listening to Henry. But I’ll bet they can’t touch his tuna salad.

(End of Part 5.)

THE KABBALAH - Part 6

Will it grow cold, the secret that I hide?
Will I grow old?
- Madonna


You’ve had those moments when you heard a song, and you had to drop everything, because nothing else was happening except the song? You just stand there with your eyes closed, literally entranced, bewitched by the music and the words and the voice? And for a moment it seems that everything in your life is contained in the song, like a secret hidden in some kind of code, and you wish you could reveal that secret to the world, but you know you can’t, because if you did, the world would crumble before its beauty? You know the feeling, right?

(Oh. Well, maybe it’s just me, then. But you get the idea.)

The song “Live to Tell” was one of those moments for me. Hearing it, I was sure that it was the work of someone who, like me, was searching for the path back to that higher place that we all come from and to which we are all destined to return. “If I live to tell the secret I knew then, will I / ever have the chance again?”

So picture Yossi Klein Halevi sitting with the Bergs and Madonna at the Kabbalah Centre. Madonna is sounding out the words to the Birkat ha-Mazon, while Halevi is mentally taking notes for his article in The New Republic.

What is Madonna Ciccone thinking as she recites the Hebrew words? Has she found what she was looking for?

Halevi closes the article with some intriguing hints about the Kabbalah Centre: an unnamed source familiar with the Centre says, "They don't tell everyone who walks through the door that it's really about immortality ... but subtly, the more you get into it, the more they reveal their real agenda." The author ends with a wry speculation: "What, after all, is more likely to entice a sex symbol confronting middle age than the promise of eternal youth?"

Perhaps many things, I think. It is easy for a male journalist to dismiss an attractive, seductive female entertainer as a "sex symbol" - and undoubtedly, whatever else she may be, Madonna certainly is that. But remember that Madonna's early role model, and the source of her principal public persona, was Marilyn Monroe - another talented, intelligent young woman who gained fame by marketing herself as a "sex symbol". Madonna, now ten years older than Norma Jeane Baker at the time of her death, must have had occasion to think about what she is going to do with the rest of her life.

A news item on Madonna suggests that there is more to this person than a "sex symbol confronting middle age". Madonna has announced that she is taking the Hebrew name Esther; she is also toning down the public sexuality. I think both of these things are important.

Taking another name - a Hebrew name, for example - is a big step. Yes, some people do do it frivolously, but when you ask to be known by another name, whether or not it replaces your old one, you are making a big change in your life. If you change your name, your parents may not take kindly to it. (Mine certainly did not.) Madonna, who was named after her mother (as was I), emphasizes that her assumption of the Hebrew name is "in no way a negation" of her mother, who died when Madonna Jr. was very young.

The news item also indicates that she is no longer interested in the "raunchy pop vixen image". "I don't regret it, but it's just ... I mean everybody takes their clothes off now. And then what? You know? And -- and then what?"

It's interesting, too, that she takes the name Esther, which is associated with the Jewish holiday of Purim. Halevi's article mentions a Purim celebration at the Kabbalah Centre, where, in the author's estimation, "Jews can pretend to be non-Jews, non-Jews can pretend to be Jews, and everyone can pretend to be Kabbalists." Halevi plays the scene for laughs, but the joke is really on him, because the ambiguity of identity is exactly what Purim is about - and I think this may help us to understand Madonna better.

The holiday of Purim and the book of Esther are unique in many ways. Esther is the only book of the Hebrew Scriptures in which the Divinity is never mentioned by name. It is also the only book set wholly in the diaspora, and the only book in which Jews are called by the name we use today: not Hebrews, not Israelites, but survivors of the Tribe of Judah - Jews.

And Purim, the holiday derived from the Esther story, is a law unto itself. While the moderate, sacralized use of wine or liquor is common at Jewish festivals, Purim is the only holiday on which we are actually expected to get drunk - so drunk, tradition tells us, that we should no longer be able to distinguish between "cursed be Haman" and "blessed be Mordechai". And above all, of course, Purim is a masquerade festival - and the only time when Jewish law officially sets aside the prohibitions of Deuteronomy 22:5, permitting celebrants to dress outside of their assigned gender.

Purim isn't one of the major Jewish holidays. Its origins are not in the Torah, but in the historical period, and so the Sabbath-like strictures that apply to Passover, Rosh HaShanah, and especially Yom Kippur do not apply to Purim. In fact, Purim is the one Jewish holiday that can never fall on the Sabbath. And yet tradition holds that in the Messianic Era, when redemption has come to the world and all other holidays are abolished, Purim alone will still be observed.

In taking the name Esther, Madonna has taken on the identity of the Jewish queen of Persia in the Biblical book of the same name. (I always identified with Vashti myself.) In the Jewish reading, Esther represents the "hidden Jew": either the Jew who must hide her or his identity for fear of persecution, or, still more allegorically, the higher Divine self that stays hidden within each person.

Perhaps Madonna is no longer content to entertain the king's court by presenting - however skilfully - the image that the outside world wishes to see. Now she can begin to come to terms with her spiritual identity as a woman, as a human being. Now, as Esther, she can begin to reconcile her public image with her true self.

(End of Part 6.)

THE KABBALAH - Part 7

No one is watching you, and yet you feel you're being watched. Maybe you've had this feeling from time to time; maybe you have it now. You don't believe in God - you gave up this guy named "God", this old man in the clouds with a white beard, long ago. So you subtract things - prophets and saints, churches, synagogues and mosques, you subtract the body from the soul and the soul from the body, and you subtract everything but the random interaction of subatomic particles. And this is the only truth you're left with, but because it has no meaning, none at all, you subtract even that.

And yet you are still left with something.

Where do you go from here?

Do you turn back to the guy named God? That was where the process started, after all; so perhaps you can begin there. But He always disappointed you - because you expected Him to be human, like a man, and idealized, powerful, all-good and all-compassionate man, but somehow human nonetheless. And God failed you; he failed your expectation. He failed to be human.

But God is not a man. You always knew this, intellectually, but it only hits you now. The guy named God is an illusion, but there's something else that is more than real. It is not human, and you hesitate to call it "He". You hesitate to give it any name at all, but you have to come up with something, so you write the word with letters missing - G-d - because the whole enterprise is futile anyway. Or you could use another word, something neutral, Spirit, or Light, or Mystery, or The Way.

More than twenty-five centuries ago, an Arab named Ayoub discovered the mysterious Spirit in the tempest of personal tragedy. His story comes down to us in one of the longest books of the Bible, written in an uncommonly opaque Hebrew and bearing the Hebrew form of his name - Iyov, or Job. Job's friends try to explain away his suffering, offering either blame or false hope. Job will accept neither. What galls him so is not the fact of his suffering, but the unfairness of it. Rejecting the sugarcoated theodicies of others, he finds no peace until he is confronted by the voice from the whirlwind, and declares: "I will ask, and you will inform me."

So evocative is the language of the Divinity's final address to Job, that the kabbalistic commentator Ra'avad discerns "fifty gates of wisdom" in chapters 38 and 39 of the book. But really, if you just read the passage aloud - even in a good English translation - you will get a sense of the mystery that Job must have experienced. And I think that is the main point.

Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Shapira, who lived in Warsaw at the time of the Nazi invasion, saw more death and cruelty than anyone should ever have to see. And yet - somehow - he kept teaching Torah, and he left a record of his teachings from the years 1940 to 1942. Unearthed by a construction worker after the war, this last work of Kalonymus, titled "The Holy Fire", is the spiritual diary of a man watching his world being destroyed.

In an entry dated Parashat Mishpatim, 5702 (February 1942), Kalonymus writes: "We learn from the commentaries that the voice of G-d at the giving of the Torah [on Mount Sinai] traveled from one end of the Earth to the other, and that Israel heard the voice of G-d in all the winds of the world. This comes to teach us that we must not think of the physical world as being far from the Torah, nor in opposition to it: it is not so. The voice of the Torah is heard from the whole world, because the world too was created by the word of G-d and the word of G-d is the essence of the world; it is only that human beings use the world in an evil way, and destroy the world that was 'created with ten commands' (Avot 5:1). And whoever uses the world for good, the world itself helps them in their study and deeds. ... For the world was created by the word of G-d, and the Torah is the word of G-d, and in fact the Creator is one with the Divine Word; and the whole Torah is contained in the Ten Commandments, and all the Ten Commandments were spoken as one word. And the Word of G-d in the creation of the world, and the Word of G-d in the Torah, are one."

Near the end of "The Holy Fire", shortly after the passage quoted above, Kalonymus (himself a kabbalist) returns to the Jewish mystical doctrine one more time. He is discussing the configuration of the ten Sephiroth, the potentialities or dimensions which kabbalists (and now physicists) tell us underlie the fabric of creation. In a conundrum going back at least to the sixteenth century, scholars have offered various ideas as to how the Sephiroth might best be schematically represented. Interestingly enough, Kalonymus eschews the familiar "Tree of Life" diagram (which can be found in any popular book on the Kabbalah) and returns to the older model of concentric rings. He presents two alternative views: "In the configuration of 'circles', each higher level encircles its [lower] neighbor, so that the Divinity surrounds all of them, and the World of Action [i.e., the lowest, material level] is at the center. In the 'direct' configuration [so called even though it is also circular], every lesser level enwraps its [higher] neighbor, so that the ray of the Infinite is found at the center, and the World of Action is outside." The first configuration, in which the greater surrounds the lesser, represents the body, for we stand surrounded by ever greater mysteries. The second, in which the greater is concealed within the lesser, is the way of the soul, for "there the soul, not the body, is of the essence."

Let's picture this. Warsaw is in ruins and Nazis are prowling the streets. Kalonymus' whole family have been murdered, and his people are being shipped off to the gas chambers day by day. He himself will make that trip in a few weeks. And here he is, writing about the unity of the world, and the soul, and G-d.

The paradox of the Jewish tradition is the tension between the individual and the universal. The festival of Purim plays on this tension by turning Jewish identity on its head ("queering" it, as we'd say nowadays) and deliberately blurring boundaries of identity. (Jews can dress like goyim, and even drink like goyim!) Because of a Jewish woman who went undercover in the Persian regime, the Jews of Persia were spared a fate like that which befell Europe's Jews in a later age. And this is the messianic symbolism of Purim: it calls on us to imagine a day when, without losing our Jewish identity, we will no longer be separate and segregated from "the nations"; rather, Israel and the nations will have evolved toward a higher commonality.

It would be easy to laugh at Madonna's interest in Kabbalah and to dismiss her as another shallow, fad-following entertainer; but I won't do that. I do hope that she can look beyond the Bergs' Kabbalah Centre for inspiration. I think she is looking for the same thing we are all looking for: to find meaning and our place in the world.

(End.)

Let's Blogroll!

Zeyad has posted Part Four of his impressive ethnic history of Iraq, bringing us up to the present day. Today's post also includes a detailed ethnic map of Iraq, drawn up by Zeyad himself.

A Small Victory has a few words about Vladimir Putin's disclosure that he warned the US about possible terrorist attacks from Saddam Hussein (yes, him) in the days after September 11. The Left, of course, say he's lying. Michele is in no mood for this nonsense.

The Belmont Club has a very good article on the strategic value of oil.

Jane is participating in Operation Shoe Fly with Sergeant Hook, to collect shoes for Afghanistan. Stop in at Armies of Liberation and find out more.

Morning Report: June 18, 2004

MORNING REPORT - June 18, 2004

Tomorrow is Juneteenth. Commemorating the liberation of enslaved Americans on June 19, 1865, the folk holiday of Juneteenth
is steadily growing in popularity among African Americans and others. An excellent source of first-hand knowledge about the life of slaves is the I Was A Slave series edited by Donna Wyant Howell.
If we are to truly fulfill our mission in Iraq, it is essential that Americans - all Americans - remember, study, and learn from the cruelties that happened in our own land.

Hate crimes bill passes. (LCR) Legislation introduced by Oregon's Republican Senator Gordon Smith, expanding the definition of "hate crimes" to include gender, perceived sexual orientation, and disability of the victim, was passed by the US Senate. According to the Log Cabin Republicans press release, Sen. Smith proposed the legislation as and amendment to the Defense Department Authorization Bill. Smith is quoted as saying: "Hate crimes tear at the very fabric of our Nation. They seek to intimidate entire groups of Americans and as such divide our Nation."

IAEA condemns Iran regime. (CNN) The International Atomic Energy Agency has adopted a resolution condemning the Iran regime for its lack of cooperation with the agency's nuclear inspections, according to the CNN report. The resolution does not, however, call for a report to the UN Security Council.

Sudan conflict spreads death, terror. (BBC) International humanitarian agencies charge the UN with being slow to react in the Sudan crisis, in which Arab militias or Janjaweed - aided, critics say, by the Sudanese government - are committing atrocities against ethnic Africans in the western region of Darfur. Mass rape is a common tactic. The government of neighboring Chad is worried that the Janjaweed are crossing the border into its own territory. Humanitarian organizations are doing what they can; they could use your help.

2004-06-17

The Iraqi Holocaust: No One Asked Them

Little Green Footballs posts this message from a US Marine Corps Reserve officer in Iraq:

... Along with the violence, I saw many things that lifted my heart. I saw thousands of Iraqis in cities like Qurnah and Medinah - men, women, children, grandparents carrying babies - running into the streets at the sight of us, the first Western army to arrive. I saw them screaming, crying, waving, cheering. They ran from their homes at the sound of our Humvee tires roaring in from the south, bringing bread and tea and cigarettes and photos of their children. They chattered at us in Arabic, and we spoke to them in English, and neither understood the other. The entire time I was in Iraq, I had one impression from the civilians I met: Thank God, finally someone has arrived with bigger men and bigger guns to be, at last, on our side.


Let there be no mistake, those of you who don’t believe in this war: the Ba’ath regime were the Nazis of the second half of the 20th century. I saw what the murderous, brutal regime of Saddam Hussein wrought on that country through his party and their Fedayeen henchmen. They raped, murdered, tortured, extorted and terrorized those in that country for 35 years. There are mass graves throughout Iraq only now being discovered. 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, out of Camp Pendleton, liberated a prison in Iraq populated entirely by children. ...

America's Dark Legacy

Jane posts a link to a recent NYT story about the discovery of two meticulously detailed diaries from the slave era. The Turnage and Washington narratives offer a wealth of historical detail and personal insights into the cruelties suffered daily by enslaved Americans.

The "I Was A Slave" series being published by American Legacy Books offers first-hand reports of slave life from hundreds of freed slaves. During the New Deal, President Roosevelt commissioned a massive oral history project in which survivors of the slave era were interviewed about their experiences. Donna Wyant Howell has been laboriously compiling excerpts from the transcripts of thousands of interviews. Currently six books are available of a projected series of 24. These may be purchased at a very affordable price from American Legacy Books. (I bought the first four as soon as they became available, and I've just ordered the latest two.)

American Legacy also accepts donations. Please take a moment to visit their website, and consider purchasing the books - or even making a donation - if you possibly can. As Americans, we have a duty to understand the horror of enslavement, and to value our freedom.

OutRage article

Here's the original article referenced by Portland's Just Out, quoted in my post "Leftist Homophobia."

Bush, Iraq, and Gay Marriage

Okay, now that I've got your attention ...

This is something I've been meaning to address for a while, and I think it's time now. Regular readers of Dreams Into Lightning (yes, all three of you) have probably figured out where I stand anyway, but it's a good idea for me to spell it out here.

First of all, let me be really clear here: I disagree strongly with President Bush about a number of things, and gay marriage is one of them. Probably the biggest one. Bush has gone on record as endorsing a constitutional amendment to, as its supporters claim, "preserve the sanctity of marriage by defining marriage as between a man and a woman". That is, a constitutional amendment that would enshrine straight folks' "right" to protect themselves from understanding the truth: that relationships are to gay people what they are to straight people.

"But if we let gays get married, what next? What's to stop a brother and sister from marrying each other?" Well, if you define marriage as "between a man and a woman", nothing. Of course, out here in the real world, people recognize that gay marriage has everything to do with commitment, growth, and responsibility - just like straight marriage - and nothing whatever to do with incest. (That's why many domestic-partner laws stipulate that the parties not be related to one another.)

The New York Times' conservative columnist David Brooks has written eloquently in favor of gay marriage. Even National Review seems to be coming around: there's an excellent essay in the June 14 print issue, "Perversion" by Roger Scruton, which seeks to "rehabilitate the concept of perversion". Taking the case of pedophilia as a starting point, Scruton argues that the question of "consent" is merely a diversion: the true evil of pedophilia lies in the nature of the act, and in its consequences for the victim. His words on homosexuality worth quoting verbatim:

"Conservatives ... might be troubled by a concept of perversion that lets homosexuality so easily off the hook. Of course, there is the rampant bath-house promiscuity that some might reasonably liken to pornography, in its fetishistic and phallic focus. But we can legitimately regard this as a perversion while refusing to accept that the perversion stems from the homosexuality. And I think that this is part of what underlies the pressure towards gay marriage - namely, the wish to distinguish the normal from the perverted, without assuming that homosexuality is in itself the cause of either. A normal homosexual desire seeks union with another person just as does the normal desire of man for woman or woman for man. It becomes perverted in the same way, by being deflected from this interpersonal relation towards an act that demeans, objectifies, and desecrates its object. And the normal desire seeks to vindicate itself in a moral commitment, in homosexual just as in heterosexual relationships."

I can add nothing to this. However, Scruton goes on in his concluding paragraph to condemn gay marriage on the grounds that the real purpose of marriage is to have children! This is surely one of the weakest arguments against gay marriage, and I can't help feeling he tacked that single paragraph on at the end simply because he couldn't bear to face the conclusion that his own essay demands. Marriage, he proclaims, "marks an existential transition, a move away from the concerns of one generation towards a concern for the next." Presumably referring to falling European birthrates, he observes that "without marriage, as we are beginning to see, societies do not reproduce themselves." (How, then, does this explain teen pregnancy in social groups where marriage is rare?)

Picking apart this dazzling display of sloppy reasoning would really demand a full post, but I'll just touch on a few of the obvious points here. Is the true purpose of marriage, then, to have and raise children? That's what Scruton seems to be saying, but he doesn't spell it out in so many words because he can't. If marriage is only worthwhile for the purpose of procreation, then infertile persons should not marry fertile persons, because that would waste valuable reproductive resources. Infact, infertile people should not get married at all, because a marriage that cannot produce children is a "desecration"! Conversely, what about lesbian couples who conceive through donor insemination? What about adoption, for heaven's sake? What about birth control? Scruton is not really giving us anything new here: it's simply the "marriage for procreation only" argument, worded opaquely enough to discourage any of the difficult questions that such an argument invites.

Now back to Bush.

The President has no official role - NONE - in the constitutional amendment process; he's just a citizen like any other in that regard. And the likelihood of such an amendment passing is, I think, very close to zero. But as a member of the gay community, I cannot feel anything but disgust at President Bush's position.

But here's the thing. Gay marriage is an important issue, but it is not the only issue in the world. It is not even the most important issue. Gay marriage - whose outcome depends scarcely or not at all on the person of the President - pales into insignificance against the campaign against fascism in the Middle East and elsewhere, which depends on the President in great measure. The battle for freedom in the Mideast outweighs gay marriage by so many orders of magnitude that I can't even conceive of setting one against the other.

In Iran, homosexuals do not even have the right to live, much less marry. In Palestine, gay people are subject to arbitrary arrest, imprisonment, torture, and execution. These things are symptoms of the totalitarianism that still holds most of the Mideast in its grip. And that same fascism threatens all of us - gay and straight - in America.

Unlike the fine writers at National Review, I don't have to worry about losing my conservative credentials because I don't have any. I've been a liberal all my life and my basic values haven't changed. But the world has changed. The Democrats have sold out their ideals to the mafias of the Mideast, and it is the Republican Party - slowly but surely coming round to enlightenment on social issues - that we must look to for the defense of the freedom, dignity, and responsibility that we all hold so dear.

So that's where I stand: queer, liberal, Republican, and proud.

Let's Blogroll!

Ginmar is in rare form, with a thought-provoking rant on women who collaborate with male sexism. The book "Woman's Inhumanity to Woman" by the feminist Phyllis Chesler examines some of the dynamics between the phenomenon Ginmar is talking about.

A Small Victory has some thoughts about Iraq and 9/11 that are worth reading.

In one of several related posts, Andrew Sullivan responds to questions (raised by Jonah Goldberg at The Corner, among others) regarding his position on President Bush. (And the view here at DiL? Glad you asked. If it's possible to be the opposite of two opposites, that would explain why I'm supporting Bush. I'll explain better soon - watch this space.)

The robots are coming!

Okay, I am REALLY excited about the new movie "I, Robot" (starring Will Smith) based on the short story collection by Isaac Asimov. Asimov is one of my favorite writers, and he had a special gift for exploring the ambiguous relationship between humans and technology. I'm also glad to see a sign that thoughtful science-fiction cinema is not dead. There is so much more to science fiction than "Star Wars". Great SF films like "Soylent Green", "2001", and "Blade Runner" are visually and mentally stimulating, and also good "people stories". I'll try to write more about this later.

Morning Report: June 17, 2004

MORNING REPORT - June 17, 2004
Questions about 9/11 Commssion. (various) The September 11 Commission has contradicted President Bush's claims about the alleged ties between al-Qaeda and Saddam's Ba'athist regime in Iraq. But is this an indictment of Bush, or of the Commission? Debka examines omissions and discrepancies in the Commission's report.
Andrew McCarthy's article in NRO raises some questions as well. And
CNN reports that Tony Blair's office is standing by its position, asserting that Saddam "created a permissive environment for terrorism and we know that the people affiliated to al Qaeda operated in Iraq during the regime".

2004-06-15

Leftist Homophobia

"Members of the gay group OutRage! and the Queer Youth Alliance took part in a London demonstration May 15 urging greater respect for human rights in Palestine. they also carried signs urging the Palestinian Authority to stop arresting and torturing homosexuals, which led to friction with other demonstrators.

"When they arrived in Trafalgar Square to join the protest, the gay activists were surrounded by Islamic fundamentalists, Anglican priests and members of the Socialist Workers Party, the Stop the War Coalition and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign who called them 'racists', 'Zionists', and 'CIA and MI5 agents', according to Peter Tatchell of OutRage!. He said the gay activists were told to move to the rear of the demonstration and, when they refused, the protest organizers blocked their placards and shouted down their interviews with reporters. ..."

- Just Out (Portland, Oregon), June 4, 2004

The L Word: Fascism and the Left

THE L WORD: LIBERALISM IN CRISIS
Fascism and the Left

Notice how all the leftists' arguments hinge on the idea of a devious leader (GWB) manipulating an ignorant and unthinking populace - the "sheeple", as the DU are fond of calling Americans. Think of the worldview that this attitude implies: a fundamental contempt for humanity and for democracy, and faith only in the power of a "supreme leader". This is the essence of fascism on the Left.

These people despise Bush precisely because he is NOT like Saddam Hussein; and had they the power, they themselves would strive to be like Saddam.

2004-06-14

Dreams Into Lightning has an Official Position on Item # 3

... and it may be found in the text of the Iran regime change petition.
You haven't signed the petition yet?

Well, what are you waiting for?

Mideast Objectives

The same post in The Belmont Club also suggests six points that US policy should clarify in the pursuit of democracy and freedom in the Middle East:

1. The desired end state in Saudi Arabia: whether or not this includes the survival of the House of Saud or its total overthrow;
2. The fate of the regime in Damascus;
3. Whether or not the United States is committed to overthrowing the Mullahs in Iran and the question of what is to replace them;
4. How far America will tolerate inaction by Iraq security forces before acting unilaterally;
5. The future of the America's alliance with France and Germany;
6. The American commitment to the United Nations.

Hat tip: Michael in SC.

House of Saud divided against itself?

The Belmont Club gives credence to Michael Doran's theory, published in Foreign Affairs, that Saudi Arabia is in a "virtual state of civil war" between two factions: that of Crown Prince Abdullah and that of his half-brother, interior minister Prince Nayef. Abdullah tilts toward pro-Western reformism, while Nayef courts the islamist clerics.

Tech Update

My upgrade to DSL is happening this Wednesday, 6/16 (and not 6/9 as previously reported).

Meanwhile the new Mac is performing splendidly. I'm finding TextEdit much easier to use than Word for editing posts.

Posting will continue at an easy pace today and tomorrow, will resume fast and furious Wednesday evening.

Morning Report: June 14, 2004

MORNING REPORT - JUNE 14

UN: Iran compliance "less than satisfactory". (Debka) Debka reports that United Nations weapons inspector el-Baradei finds Iran's cooperation on weapons inspections "less than satisfactory". The US is pushing for a deadline.

Arab reaction to Greater Mideast Initiative. (Iraq the Model) Now blogging from home, Omar posts more responses to the American push for political reform in the Middle East, translated from the BBC Arabic service. He reports that, predictibly, the most positive responses came from Iraq and the most negative from Palestine. The one surprise was the number of positive responses from Saudi Arabia.

Sudan: Victims of silence. (Jane Novak - Yemen Times) Bombings, crop destruction, well poisoning, mass executions, rape and torture are well-documented, ongoing atrocities in Sudan. Where, Jane asks, is the global action and outrage?

Change of tune for Saudi clerics? (Fox) Fox News reports that six Saudi clerics with former terrorist ties - including two, Safar bin Abdul Rahman al-Hawali, and Salman al-Awdah, who supported Osama bin Laden - have issued a statement condemning attacks on Westerners. The statement explicitly declared that "it is a sin to kill a life without a right, be it Muslim or non-Muslim" and warned against labeling other Muslim nations "infidels". No explanation has yet been offered as to why these six have now joined the Saudi government in opposing terrorist attacks.

2004-06-10

Morning Report: June 10, 2004

MORNING REPORT - JUNE 10, 2004

- Ronald Reagan dies. (various) Former president Ronald Reagan died last Sunday, after a long battle with Alzheimer's disease. He is remembered favorably for his uncompromising stance on national security, which led to the US victory over the Soviet Union in the Cold War. More problematic was his support for repressive regimes in Iraq, Iran, and Central America because of perceived American security interests.

- Banned Iraqi missile parts found in Jordan scrapyard. (AP) UN weapons inspection teams, on the trail of an Al Samoud 2 missile engine found in a scrapyard in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, discovered more than 20 banned Iraqi missile engines in a scrapyard in Jordan, according to a briefing given by weapons inspector Demetrius Perricos whose text the AP said it had obtained. The AP article says Perricos stressed the large quantity of scrap metal being exported out of Iraq.

AP: missile parts found

2004-06-09

Sully on Reagan

Andrew Sullivan admired Reagan's brand of conservatism. In recent posts, he defends Reagan's record on homosexuality and AIDS.

Hitch on Reagan

No fan of Ronald Reagan, Christopher Hitchens still wonders why so many leftist "intellectuals" feel they need to prove themselves smarter than Reagan - and whether they, had they been in power in Reagan's place, could have brought about the defeat of the Soviet Union as effectively as he did.

US Warns Syria

Debka announced today that the US had issued a "sharply worded" warning to Syria to call in its troops and Hezbollah fighters operating in Iraq, or else face serious consequences.

Regime Change at DiL

I'm writing this from a brand-new Mac; my DSL broadband kicks in next week. Now I'll be able to get more done in less time ... that's going to be nice!

2004-06-08

test post

This is a test post.

2004-06-07

Best of DiL

BEST OF DREAMS INTO LIGHTNING


WOMEN AND POWER: Gender, politics, and the price of empowerment – responsibility.
Women and Power

THE ABUSE OF POWER
I Am a Rapest
Seeds of Evil
It is not work. It is abuse.
Army of Occupation

THE L WORD: Liberalism in crisis.
Berman: Another Peace Movement
Galloway
The L Word
Are you a liberal?
Authority Figure
An Infinite Supply of Arab Murderers
Self and Other

SON OF THE MOTHER OF ALL BATTLES: My Iraq war.
The Long Road Home
The Kill
Armed Forces Day

KABBALAH SERIES: A meditation on Jewish mysticism, featuring Lawrence Kushner, Phillip Berg, Yossi Klein Halevi, and Madonna. To be continued.
Kabbala-la Land
The Kabbalah: Part 1
The Kabbalah: Part 2
The Kabbalah: Part 3
The Kabbalah: Part 4
The Kabbalah: Part 5

THE IRAQI HOLOCAUST
The Question
Uday vs. Women
Mass Graves
Sam’s Charge Sheet 1
Sam’s Charge Sheet 2
Al-Dujail
Denial
Memory

IRAN
True Security: Regime Change in Iran
Ebadi Boycott
And Iran...


WINNING IN IRAQ
Seven Iraqi Amputees
Flying Saucers
Winning In Iraq

WORDS TO LIVE BY
Faith



2004-06-04

Break from Posting

No new posts until my hardware/ISP upgrade is complete, probably by Wednesday. Meanwhile, please feel free to explore the posts I consider most important, at "Best of DiL", below.
UPDATE: Some of the links work and some don't; I'm in the process of fixing this now.

The Axe

My mother left me an electric guitar.

Well, not precisely. But when Mom died last year, I inherited the house; and after all the red tape with the probate court, I was able to sell it. After depositing the check, the first thing I bought myself was a solid-body Ibanez.

If you love Jimi Hendrix, PJ Harvey, the Rolling Stones, Heart, Boston, the Indigo Girls, Yes, Soundgarden, Bo Diddley, Joan Jett, REM, Joan Armatrading, Chuck Berry, the Psychedelic Furs, the Grateful Dead, Led Zeppelin, the Byrds, U2, Melissa Etheridge, Cream, Starcastle, Alice in Chains, and Joy Division, then you understand why I think the electric guitar is the most beautiful instrument in the world.

I’ve always been fascinated by how the guitar can be thin and rich and plaintive – like on Bob Seger’s “Main Street” – or rich and bold, like in “Plush” by Stone Temple Pilots. The driving power of Heart’s “Barracuda”. The apocalyptic drama of the Indigo Girls’ “Touch Me Fall”.

It was 1974 (and I was eleven) when the prog-rock sextet Starcastle rocked my world with their debut single “Lady of the Lake”. People claimed Starcastle sounded like Yes, but in fact the Champaign-Urbana based group had a sound all their own. Yes were doing some of their best work around this time too; the riff from “Siberian Khatru” – especially the live version on the lavishly packaged album “Yessongs” – is burned in my brain forever.

Strange to say, I didn’t really appreciate Led Zeppelin while I was growing up in the 1970s. I didn’t understand what they were doing musically until I heard Robert Plant’s solo album “The Principle of Moments”. Those guys did the most amazing things with sound.

In my last year of high school, my friend Chuck made me a tape with Joy Division’s “Unknown Pleasures” on one side and the Psychedelic Furs’ debut album on the other. Ian Curtis’ tormented vocals wandered down the industrial labyrinth of the Joy Division sound, while Richard Butler’s gravelly voice wound like a fiery thread around the Fur’s furious guitar and bass lines. To this day, my record collection is full of Joy Division and Psychedelic Furs.

I wore my Aerosmith concert jersey for my graduation photo. What more is there to say?

A few years ago I went to see a concert at the Rose Garden. It was just before tax day, and I still hadn’t turned in my 1040, and I had a million other things on my mind too, so I wasn’t really in much of a mood to see a concert. The headline act was some big-name rock band from Ireland. But the opening act ... well, that was something else! This tiny woman in a leather micro-skirt walks out on stage, picks up a guitar that’s almost bigger than she is, and starts blasting away. And doesn’t stop for an hour. That was my introduction to PJ Harvey. (And the main act? Some bunch of fat old guys that used to be a big deal ... think they called themselves “W-2”, or something like that ... )

It was Jimi, of course, who defined the electric guitar as an electronic instrument. A vibrating string has a base tone – defined as a function of half the string’s length and its linear density – but it also has a potentially infinite number of overtones, because there are also vibration nodes at thirds, quarters, fifths, and so on, of the length of the string. If you attach the string to a hollow object – say, a box, or the body of an instrument – more overtones will be produced by the instrument body. An acoustic guitar produces its rich sound because of the particular resonances of the string, and of the body of the instrument itself. With an electic guitar, though, you have one or more electromagnetic pickups placed at different points along the string: this means that you get to decide which overtones you want to bring out. Hendrix discovered the possibilities of using feedback, distortion, and higher harmonics to produce musical sounds no one had ever heard before.

But you know, the really cool thing about the electric guitar is that YOUR PARENTS WILL NEVER PRESSURE YOU TO LEARN THE INSTRUMENT. It’s true. Mom dragged my sister and me to piano lessons for years when we were kids, and I can still play, and I’m glad my mother forced me to learn ... I guess. But how many young people hear their mothers say, “Jonathan B. Goode, if I don’t hear some chord changes coming from your room RIGHT THIS MINUTE ...” ?

So it’s one thing you have to motivate yourself to learn. And that’s cool.

My guitar teacher has given me some finger exercises, some movable scales, and some chord changes to work on. I’m starting to learn “Chickenman”, the Indigo Girls classic (written by Amy Ray). The book calls for tuning the guitar DADGBD, but Guitar Guru showed me some fingerings I can use with standard tuning.

So now I’m on my way to being a participant and not merely a listener. One day, hopefully, I’ll really learn to play.

Mom wouldn’t be proud of me.